Yokota, JASDF team up for NCOEP
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Yokota Airmen have the unique privilege of working alongside their Japan Air Self-Defense Force counterparts while supporting a variety of contingencies throughout the region. These opportunities allow for both the strengthening of mission capabilities as well as the exchange of ideas between each service. And although these opportunities are plentiful here at Yokota, there is a wealth of knowledge that goes undiscovered about our fellow Japanese counterparts when sharing only brief interactions.
As such, the 374th Airlift Wing has taking a proactive step to enhance that relationship by hosting JASDF Airmen as they took part in the 16th Annual NCO Exchange Program, March 15-24 at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
A total of 16 JASDF Airmen from a variety of career fields participated in this year's NCOEP, which provides an opportunity for participants to enhance communications and understanding of different operations between both organizations.
"We take in JASDF NCO's from throughout Japan and match them to their professional counterparts here at Yokota," said Staff Sgt. Zachary Kelly, 374th Operational Support Squadron weather forecaster.
Kelly, sponsor of JASDF Staff Sgt. Masaya Ito, Central Weather Squadron weather observer, said the he and the other participants had the pleasure of sharing job knowledge and showing the capabilities of Yokota to their JASDF partners.
"It's a very good learning experience for me as I'm able to share the similarities and difference that we and our Japan partners with my flight," Kelly said. "The program gives everyone involved an opportunity to learn from our differences and possibly incorporate them into our own procedures."
Participants' experiences varied depending on their host and carrier field. Locations varied from medical facilities, towers and runways, and even flight on a C-130 Hercules.
"By sharing not only my own work area, but also all of the other jobs that our Airmen do, we can paint a better picture of what we're able to accomplish here at Yokota," Kelly added.
A majority of the program's participants echoed a constant challenge: the language barrier. Ito himself said that prior to his arrival, he was nervous about effectively communicating with his partner. However, when he met with Kelly for the first time at the initial ice breaker, his worries slowly melted away as the pair was able to speak with one another with only modest difficulty.
"It's an inevitable challenge that all of the program's participants were faced with," Kelly said. "Fortunately, by relying on patience and the many resources we had at our disposal, we were able to communicate successfully from beginning to end."
Rather than parting ways after work each day, NCOEP participants remained together during physical training, volunteering and even dinner.
Kuniko Takamizu, 374th Airlift Wing protocol and NCOEP coordinator, said that by having participants together for not only normal work hours, but also outside of work, gave JASDF members an opportunity to become more immersed and develop deeper relationships with their Yokota partners.
"Facilitating opportunities for relationships to develop and grow between Yokota and JASDF Airmen has continued to have a positive impact on U.S. and Japan relations," Takamizu said.
Kelly and Ito revealed that sharing their time together has helped to unveil the mysteries surrounding each of their daily lives.
"I learned that we share many things in common," Ito said. "We're both in the military, have the same job and even have similar skill level in our favorite sport, tennis. These things have made it real easy to become friends with Zachary."
This year's NCOEP has come to its official end, but the newly formed friendships created throughout the program may yet continue to grow.